Following the article, we were excited to discuss with you on our social media platforms how controversial the H&M World Recycling Week was. Some of you commented that the communication was super misleading as in reality due to current limits of the technology only 1% of collected clothing could be used as recycled fibers. Kirsten Brodde, the project lead of Greenpeace Detox My Fashion, confirmed this statistic to us on Twitter. Lucy Siegle from The Guardian then calculated that if H&M achieved their target to collect 1.000 tons of clothing waste, they would need 12 years to use up all the clothing for recycling – while at the same time producing the same amount of clothing only in a couple of days (Source). So while it is the right direction to go, there is a need for innovation to make things more efficient.
But recycling is not the only smart idea and most likely your Grandmother showed you an even better way to consume and use smarter! My Grandma for example is a knitting champion and I still love to wear the pullovers she knits for me. And mind you I give her a full briefing on the cut and colour- so it’s a made to measure dream! But ever so often she ends up with pieces of wool that are not enough for a new piece. She never throws anything away without screening if the stuff has other, sometimes innovative, use or as she likes to call them ‘hidden talents’. In the case of left over wool, she knits them into warm and colourful covers to make the cold winter time cosy and fun. The concept is still the same, but it’s back in vogue & become ‘cool’ now! Goes by the name – UPcycling!
The smart thing about upcycling is that the quality stays either the same or is even better. There are no technological boundaries, the only limitation is your creativity. You have DIY videos flooding the net on how to upcycle better, smarter, cooler! And Pinterest of course is king of DIY!
But first, what is upcycling? So in upcycling you keep the material- you do not break it down. But you refashion it, cut it, re-paint it etc. And this is actually where the big plus is: Upcycling transforms old into (mostly better!) new. This is where we think it gets particularly relevant to make more people green and join the movement for sustainable consumption of fashion and reduction of pollution caused due to this industry.
Here’s where Mat Dusting & his company M-24 caught our eye. Mat’s ambition was first to do the best quality products ever and turned out that he achieved that through upcycling. As a total winter sports freak, he damaged one bag after the other and in the quest of better quality bags he discovered the hidden talents of used lorry curtains. He decided to epicycle these into durable designer backpacks. The pieces are not only super resistent and excellent quality, every piece is unique. This combination of best quality and unique design is usually what you get form luxury brands only, so here you can see the hidden powers of upcycling. But we’ll let him explain his journey. So here’s UrbanMeisters in conversation with Mat Dusting!
So Mat, tell us all about you & your background.
Mat: I’m 27, born and raised in rural Somerset, UK. Growing up for me involved making dens in the woods, building go-karts and constructing tons of stuff from Lego. I’ve always enjoyed seeing creations come to life from a young age and when I left school I choose to continue this journey by studying Industrial Product Design at Aston university, Birmingham. I loved it but while working for a large company on a placement year I learnt that working for big corporations wasn’t what I thought it was… so I decided to start my own business.
What is M-24?
Mat: We salvage old lorry tarpaulins from around the UK and turn them into durable bags.
The material is extremely tough, waterproof and hardwearing which makes is perfect for luggage. Each product is unique in appearance because we use such a huge variety colours + designs.
Our mission is to make up-cycling cool.
How & why did you come up with the idea? Why did you pick upcycling?
Mat: After finishing university I went back to the farm in Somerset and started experimenting with random materials lying around. I found old sandbags, polythene, tyres and a piece of tarpaulin covering some hay bales in the field. I bought a sewing machine and before long realised I couldn’t sew nor was the machine I bought up to the challenge. I cut the patterns and worked with a few local sewing experts who were able to help me design my first range of products. That’s literally how I started out!
And now I can’t get enough of it because every time we make a bag, it looks different from the last. It’s like seeing a brand new product each time! It’s a very addictive process.
And what makes the bags special?
Mat: Well apart from how they’re made, it’s the response these bags evoke in my customers. I think because customers can see where the material comes from. Letters and writing on the bags begs the question “what is it made from?” and once people know what the material is, they’ll often smile and say something like “that’s so cool!” That’s a special feeling.
Tell us where are your bags made? Who designs them?
Mat: All the bags are made in the south west of the UK. The tarpaulins are collected at the family farm in Somerset before being sent to a local recycling company who strip down them into smaller pieces and remove any scrap metal. All the bits we can’t use are then recycled in traffic cones or sent to scrap metal merchants.
The lorry tarp is then washed in XXXL washing machines using eco friendly chemicals to remove all dirt and grease.
Once the material is dry it’s then sent 15 miles up the road to a leather factory who cut the patterns and stitch them into bags.
I design the bags with freelance designers from all over UK. I like the creative process of forming ideas on scrap pieces of paper then seeing them evolve into tangible, functional and desirable products. It’s even more rewarding when other people love them as much as us.
How environmentally friendly are they?
Mat: On a scale of 1 – 10 I would say 8. Here are a few key facts:
- We use a waste material that would otherwise be burnt or sent to a landfill.
- All the plastic we salvage is either recycled or upcycled.
- We use eco-friendly washing chemicals.
- The effluent from the washing machines is then broken down using bacteria.
- The entire manufacturing process occurs within a 50-mile radius.
- Our packaging is cardboard that can all be recycled.
We don’t measure our processes yet and no doubt there is room for improvement.
What do you have to say about the common perception that eco-friendly products, especially fashion, are bad quality & boring in design?
Mat: I agree. Traditionally eco-friendly products have always a boring label slapped on them, but I believe things are changing! I think as the world is becoming more aware of climate change and the environment, the spotlight is shifting towards sustainability in the fashion industry. The problem at the moment is the majority of people are either very brand conscious or will simply buy the cheapest thing because they don’t care. It leaves eco-brands in a middle void that appeals to a niche market.
As a designer I honestly believe if products look better, function better and are competitively priced then there is no reason why it can’t become a mainstream product.
Desire is key to building a successful brand. “People don’t buy what you make, they buy why you make them.”
What about the price vs. similar products in terms of quality?
Mat: Two years ago I made the decision not to stock shops. Why? To reduce the asking price of M-24 bags and because retail margins nearly killed M-24 as I was forced to source cheaper components.
My aim is to reinvest more into the product rather than stock shops with loft retail margins. Selling directly to loyal M-24 customers online is a clear answer to improving quality and creating a sustainable business model. I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve the design and help improve the longevity of each bag. It’s a win win formula.
Tell us about your team, how many are you and who does what.
Mat: It’s just me running M-24. One man army!
It took me 2 years to build a supply chain that would allow me to work independently. During those 2 years I did everything myself, often by hand and working ridiculously long hours.
I now work with about 8 different companies who have all helped me build an incredibly lean and mean supply chain. Each company is very experienced in their field and offer invaluable feedback + advice to help improve the process. I couldn’t do it without them.
I’m responsible for making sure everyone is happy.
What is the vision for M-24? Are you planning on getting into any other category/ products?
Mat: My vision is to make up-cycling cool. I believe this is achievable by building a lifestyle brand where the product and vision comes first. The fact the product is upcycled is likely to be a by-product for the vast majority of our potential customers.
At the moment we have about 12 products and we’re about to go through a big transformation soon. But I can’t say too much about it, you’ll just have to wait and watch.
[Editor’s note: Mat had to promise that we will be the first ones to know 🙂 ]
As a cool greenie, could you share some of your advice with our readers? For example what is your daily green routine, what do you do for your health and wellbeing?
Mat: I tend to eat more vegetables now and made a conscious decision to reduce the amount of sugar I consume.
I’ve recently signed up for an Iron Man race in September. It’s a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile cycle followed by a half marathon. It will be a challenge that’s for sure and something to focus on away from M-24.
I think lots of small changes can have a big impact. I’m currently living on the 4th floor of an apartment block that has a lift but I choose to take the stairs every time. I made a little calculation that I find funny: the vertical distance of the stairs is about 6 meters from top to bottom. I travel the stairs 4 times a day = 24 meters. If I take the stairs everyday for one year, I will have travelled 8.7 kilometres VERTICALLY, nearly exactly the same height as Mount Everest! So little things like this can go a long way in making our world greener.
And any advice for our UrbanMeisters that are motivated by your example and are thinking about starting a green company?
Mat: The best piece of advice I can give is this. In general I think advice is highly overrated. Over the years I’ve been given loads of advice on how to build a company from some very respected individuals but I’ve realised most of it is rubbish because someone can only give you advice based on their own experiences. There’s no point taking advice from a property developer if you want to sell jewellery online…
So my advice is: Listen to your gut. Break the rules. Think BIG!
The best quote I’ve ever heard is by an inspirational entrepreneur called Naveen Jain. Look him up!
“Don’t think how am I going to make a million dollars, instead think how am I going to help a million people.”
So, dear UrbanMeisters, we hope you enjoyed this honest interview. We certainly had a lot of fun. Now go and check out the super cool-cool bags that M-24 is designing. Click here or on the picture below. Team UrbanMeisters is a huge fan of the duffle bags in all sizes and colours, but there are plenty of other models, like backbacks, messenger bags, totes, even washbags. You can also find all sorts of matching accessories.
Mat touched and inspired us & M-24 conquered our green shopping hearts, so do check them out. If you have any aditional questions for Mat, ask us here, and we will check with him and get back to you.